Campaign Realpolitik

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The McCain campaign has lied about the Bridge to Nowhere, Obama’s tax plan, and his vice presidential pick’s record on earmarks, attacked the media for not treating Sarah Palin with sufficient deference, and run a series of highly disturbing ads against Barack Obama that leave little doubt they are designed to play on racial fears and stereotypes. “Morally unfit” to be president, one commentator lambasted McCain, who had previously vowed to run an honorable campaign, and been the victim of such vicious smears himself during his unsuccessful 2000 Republican primary run against George W. Bush. If there were a referee, perhaps he could be implored to cry foul and make it stop. But, having lived through 2000 and 2004, it’s also not so surprising to observers that this is the kind of campaign that McCain has chosen to run at the top of the GOP ticket. He’s determined to do whatever it takes to win, and his party has used such tactics, and successfully, in the past.

So what about seeing the political campaign world as it really is, and not how candidates say they would like it to be? So suggests’s political writer Chris Cillizza in this chat today:

St. Louis: Since you’re so “in the know,” I was wondering if you’ve heard from Republicans — off the record, of course — that they’re surprised by McCain’s campaign. His traditionally Republican campaign is smart — they win — but it also seems so out of character for the old McCain we knew in 2000. What are Republican insiders thoughts on this change?

Chris Cillizza: Hmm, was that “in the know” comment a shot at me?

If so, well played. Onto the question….

Republicans have always — or at least for as long as the Fix memory lasts — adopted a realpolitik approach to political campaigns.

That is, they use tactics that work — whether or not they are “fair”. Republicans are, typically, far less concerned about the approval of newspaper editorial boards and the so called “eastern media elite” than their Democratic counterparts, a fact that allows them almost total freedom when it comes to how they conduct their campaigns.

Democrats, on the other hand, always promise to play as down and dirty as Republicans but when the rubber hits the road tend to back off somewhat.

The one Democratic politician in recent memory who didn’t follow that blueprint was Bill Clinton; it’s no accident he is the last Democrat to win elected office.

In the frame of campaign politics, “fair” doesn’t really matter. Effective and persuasive do.

I don’t condone this but state it merely as fact.

The jury remains out on how the Obama campaign will approach the final seven weeks of the campaign.

It’s hard to argue with Cillizza. “In the frame of campaign politics, ‘fair’ doesn’t really matter. Effective and persuasive do.” There are virtues to running an honorable and mostly positive campaign that reflects the candidate’s professed desire to usher in a new, less divisive era of politics to Washington (and perhaps additional political risks to Obama too in appearing too angry or negative). But with the stakes so high, there is more virtue perhaps in winning.

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